Friday 2 September 2022

Only In Ireland - thank god I live here!

The final day of August finds me in the historic City of Athlone, sitting at a table outside a coffee shop, in what any Mediterranean country would call a plaça.

Beside cathedral and castle, the mighty Shannon splits Ireland asunder, in a quintessentially Irish blend of the understatedly powerful and gentle.

Over an aromatic dark-roasted cappuccino, I chat with the woman who was behind the counter, who has come out to join me.

We swap stories of gaining weight, losing weight, gaining husbands and wives, losing husbands and wives, and then we share the intimate laugh of those who have enjoyed each others’ company, for the first and last time.

We wish each other well, and I stroll on towards the bridge.

I’m on a gentle pilgrimage. As well as scribbling, I love to read, and alongside countless others, share a love of chaotic quirky unique independent bookshops.


Living in San Francisco I first stepped foot into City Lights bookstore with the reverence and excitement of a true worshipper. Here was the home of my adolescent literary heroes.


Jack Kerouac Alley runs between City Lights and the unique sprawling wondrous bar Vesuvio, which became my second home and first US local.


In Galway, Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop, rich in character, drenched in atmosphere, satisfies my need for sprawling unique bookshops, and now in Athlone I’m driven to find the famous tiny wonderfully chaotic and quirky home to tomes that is John‘s books.


However on the way I’m distracted in an alley that slopes gently toward the river by the sight of the latest Alan Garner in the window of The Athlone Bookshop.

When he was made redundant from Waterstones, proprietor Steve used his money to open this labour of love: a splendid little bookshop, as packed with great choices as Steve’s head is with bookish knowledge. 

We chat about the new Donal Ryan and Clare Keegan and short stories, and I buy some plays, and then we talk of Brian Friel and the Drama Festival.

Now armed with a small bag of books, I cross the bridge, pausing half way across because you must, to watch the great river mosey on by.

I mutter as I pass the Eastern European playing his accordion at the far end of the bridge.  

As a Chelsea fan who lost to 'The Saints' of Southampton FC last night, the very last tune I want to hear this morning concerns the moment

When the saints
Oh, when the saints
Oh, when the saints go marchin' in...

But he is, I think, Romanian, and I am a tourist in Athlone, so I decide to keep that one to myself.

I pass him three more times on my rambles over the next four hours, and each time he is still playing the same tune. Clearly it was not a cruel irony sent to torture me as a Chelsea fan: it’s just the only damn tune he knows how to play.

Despite feeling slightly put off by a rather twee arty sign welcoming me to Athlone’s 'Left Bank' (come on, this is a truly lovely place, but it ain’t Paris, and should not aspire to be) I find myself happier on this side of the river, unaware then as I know now, that I am in County Roscommon, and therefore in the West of Ireland. 

John's bookshop does not disappoint.


Quirky, chaotic, hilarious and crammed with wonder.

Back in the day when I took the bus from Dublin to Galway I used to cheer as we passed west of the Shannon.

For many this country is cruelly divided between the six counties in the UK North and the twenty six in the Republic’s South, but in personal emotional, economic and spiritual terms, the split for me is more East West.

The former: wealth; power; corruption; homogeneity; indifference; no thanks.

The latter: poverty; power; corruption; exceptional; compassionate; home; yes please.

Walking back over the bridge, I lope slowly along the banks of the ancient Shannon, with the sun shining in the August 31 sky.

The sultry warm air is lightly chilled to perfection by a gentle easterly breeze.


Towards me strides a man of my own age, with white hair, light blue T-shirt and dark blue shorts.

As we draw near, he turns towards me, smiles sincerely from deep blue eyes, and in a way that I believe nobody of any other country would do, embraces me verbally, as if I’ve known him my entire life.

“How are you this morning?”

“I am good, thanks!” I reply. “Enjoying this wonderful weather!” 

“By god yes, ‘tis a magnificent morning, and we are lucky to be alive, to see it, are we not? It is a great day to be alive!”

Only in Ireland.

“Yes! I declare, “Yes, yes yes it is!”

As I walk on, a smile stretches deep, long and strong across my face.

Recently I have felt ephemeral and uncharacteristic envy of others who send photos from swimming pools in Crete and beaches in far-awaydom.

I'm able neither financially nor physically to holiday in that way, to travel far, so - along with two nights of cosy luxury, accompanied hopefully by gale force winds, at Connemara’s Rosleague Manor in October - this 48 hours is my tiny holiday.

My tiny trip has been simply lovely.


Yesterday I walked with a friend through woodlands, bedazzled by dappled leafy sunlight and glowing lily pads.


Today, I spent a few hours wandering bookshops and eating superb pastéis de nata at a Portuguese cafe, chilling out for a few midweek morning hours, which in itself is a wonderful luxury.

Oh, and today a complete stranger reminded me how good it is to be alive.

As someone who struggles profoundly with issues of mental health, this was no small assertion. 

Only in Ireland.
Thank god I live here.

©Charlie Adley